The advice you don't want to hear about overwhelm!
My post-it board currently has 17 tasks on it. My hyper-anxious 10 year old child is in London on ‘camp’ for the first time, there are 3 loads of washing to put away, 9 orders to pack and send, a second date to get ready for and my dog keeps throwing up. Welcome to Wednesday!
To say I get overwhelmed with things is an understatement. And I don’t know any person who doesn’t feel that creeping panic when they realise how much they have to do and how little time in which to achieve it. Over the years I have honestly let it get the better of me, breaking down in tears or burying my head in the sand, refusing to do anything at all.
But that’s the thing with overwhelm. It is the MOST unhelpful thing to actually get anything done. It reduces your energy levels, gives you physical symptoms like headaches, weakens your immune system, makes you feel irritable or low in patience, stops you being able to focus on any particular task, reduces your confidence and makes you extra sensitive to any additional stress (no matter how small). None of these things are helpful to actually reduce the number of things you have to do, or to ensure what you do is of a high standard.
So what can we do about overwhelm?
The answer is counter-intuitive, but the only logical answer is STOP.
Now, when I first heard this advice, my immediate reaction was to freak out. I’m a single mum with 2 businesses to run. I DON’T HAVE TIME TO STOP!! But I can honestly say that it was the most game changing piece of advice I’ve ever been given.
When I feel the stress creeping in, I choose to walk away, pick up a book, go for a walk with the dog (who could feel overwhelmed when hanging with that floofy cutie?), start sorting through my neglected spotify playlists, practice some mindfulness, paint my nails neon pink… whatever I need to do to take myself out of the churn for a moment. This slows my breathing, resets my brain and gives me enough regulation to start thinking about things logically again.
Then, I can start to prioritise the things that need doing urgently. A useful trick Lucy taught me is the 4 D’s:
- What can I delete? What actually doesn’t need my attention at all and is put on my list as a ‘nice to have’ rather than a necessity?
- What can I defer? What needs attention, but can be put off until tomorrow or next week without the world falling apart?
- What can I delegate? Can you get someone to help you with tasks? So often people are thrilled to be asked to pick you up something from the shop or look after the kids, or maybe it’s time to consider whether a VA is a good investment so you can turn your attention to things that really need your face or name to them.
- What can be done differently? Is there an automated system that would make your life easier for example? Would AI like Chat GPT help get you started on your task?
The urge when we are overwhelmed is to plough on through a mountain of work at the detriment of our mental and physical health, and end up producing poorer quality work. By taking a moment, recognising the overwhelm, and changing our mental and physical state, we are better able to make the decisions we need to handle the things that are making us feel overwhelmed. Even though it feels wrong, you will find you produce better quality work, achieve more and retain your sanity.
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